May 31, 2021

Reilly Set To Climb CFL Passing List

The 2019 season for your BC Lions was disappointing, to say the least. However, when looking for reasons to be optimistic you could point to a couple of bright spots. The big one for yours truly is the fact Michael Reilly continued to prove he can put up big numbers in the passing game. How high can he go? Well if you take the man at his word that a year off from football has helped his body recuperate enough that he’s in as good of shape as he was as a rookie, then the possibilities are very intriguing.

First, a quick refresher on where he stands in terms of all-time CFL passing yards. Prior to returning to the west coast as a free agent, Reilly put up three consecutive seasons of over 5,000 passing yards, including a career-best 5,830 yards in 2017 when he took home CFL Most Outstanding Player.

Prior to suffering that season-ending wrist injury on the Lions’ fourth offensive play from scrimmage in a loss at Edmonton in game 16, Reilly was stuck at 3,897 passing yards in 2019. That would put him on pace to fall just short of another 5,000-yard passing campaign. Coincidentally, the previous time he failed to hit that mark came when he missed eight games due to injury in 2015.

When you factor in Reilly’s competitiveness, the fact he’s fresh and being reunited with a familiar coach, 5,000 yards is a barometer he can easily shoot for the next few seasons. How high does that get him in CFL passing history? Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

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15th Spot And Climbing

To start with, we must credit CFL stats ace and Lions historian Steve Daniel for the work he has done compiling all of these league records on a yearly basis. Here it goes. Reilly’s yardage total last season enabled him to surpass Kerry Joseph, Tom Burgess and Sam Etcheverry on the CFL all-time passing yards list. Reilly enters 2021 in 15th spot all-time with more quarterbacks to reel on on that list.

Here’s where it gets complicated. With only 14 regular season games in 2021, we decided to use this formula: assuming a pro-rated season of 5,000 yards is very attainable for Reilly, that total in a 14-game campaign rounds out to 3,888 yards.

Hitting that exact mark this season will move him up to 13th on the all-time passing list, leapfrogging both Darian Durant (31,740 yards) and Dieter Brock (34,830 yards). At that point, Kent Austin is the next to catch at 36,030 yards. Reilly is currently 4,508 yards behind Austin meaning that in this expected shortened campaign, he would need to revert back to his 2015 pace when he flirted with 6,000 yards. Not impossible. But to use an old cliche, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

The return of a normal schedule in 2022 is where Reilly can really take aim at climbing into the top ten. Hitting that pro-rated mark this season followed by a 5,000-yard season in 2022 would put Reilly at 40,410 career passing yards and just 124 yards shy of Tracy Ham for tenth spot all-time.

In ninth position is Doug Flutie with 41,355 passing yards while Matt Dunigan is in eighth with 43,857 yards. After that, it becomes a tall task to climb any higher. Ron Lancaster sits in seventh spot with 50,535 yards. It’s safe to say Anthony Calvillo (79,816) and Damon Allen (72,381) remain in their own class for a long time.

Any way you slice it, it will be a cool story to monitor for the next few years as Reilly not only aims to bring a Grey Cup back to British Columbia but makes his ascension into the top ten of all-time CFL passing yards.

The only other active quarterback who is close to Reilly’s career total is Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell who enters 2021 with 27,397 passing yards to his name. Bo is five years younger, which perhaps gives him the upper hand on Reilly in the long term. But both of these superstars will soon lay claim to being in the top ten all-time. A pretty cool feather in the cap.

With no signs of slowing down, we take a look at where Michael Reilly can land on the CFL's all-time passing list before all is said and done.

The Lions Record Books

It’s also worth nothing Reilly is poised to make a dent in the Lions’ passing record books. To date, he has amassed 4,593 passing yards as a Lion. That puts him in 18th amongst all-time quarterbacks for the franchise. But he’s poised to skyrocket way up this list.

Using the same formula above, should he hit the targets for the next couple of years, Reilly would be right on the cusp of catching Dave Dickenson (13,573) for fifth amongst all-time Lion quarterbacks.

After that, Joe Kapp is within reach in fourth spot with 16,536 all-time passing yards. The top three you ask? Reilly’s buddy Travis Lulay sits in third with 21,532 passing yards in orange and black.

We’re now into the territory of Reilly putting up these same numbers for approximately the next four seasons. Does it seem daunting? Maybe. For now, we’ll just sit back and watch one of the best in the CFL’s modern era do his thing one week at a time.

Mike Reilly and Jordan Maksymic with the Edmonton Football Team in 2017. Photo: Johany Jutras

New OC Should Boost Passing Game

Reilly’s receiving core with the likes of Bryan Burnham, Lemar Durant, Shaq Johnson and Dominique Rhymes will be a major factor in helping the QB up his passing stats. Another big factor coming into 2021 is the long-awaited reunion for Reilly and offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic who served as Edmonton’s quarterbacks coach from 2017-19.

Reilly led the CFL in passing yards in each of those three years with Maksymic and, as mentioned, took home the league’s Most Outstanding Player award in 2017. Having that familiarity will no doubt go a long way in helping this squad return to Grey Cup contention in 2021 and beyond. Let’s get going already!

Matt Baker: